Playful Publics: Interactivity, Immersion, and the Gamification of Society

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Below is the fourth meLecture on ‘Playful Publics: Interactivity, Immersion, and the Gamification of Society’. This is a new topic for the unit ALC201 Exploring New Media: Users, Settings, Implications, and provides a brief and broad survey of a subject that is destined to only become more central in Media Studies programs across the world…

Trust Me. I’m Batman.

(on the Nintendo)

Celebrity, Performativity, and the Age of the Selfie: Young People and Virtual Selfhood

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Here’s the third meLecture ‘episode’ addressing the topic, ‘Celebrity, Performativity, and the Age of the Selfie: Young People and Virtual Selfhood':

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In the following supplementary video (which is just as important to watch as the first one!), I have an in depth conversation with Professor David Marshall, the Chair of New Media, Communication, and Cultural Studies at Deakin University. David’s reflections are immensely interesting and I highly recommend you take notes while watching. As David makes so many valuable observations, I don’t want or need to say much on this topic myself, but I did want to leave you with one short passage from last week’s reading by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, which is just as significant in relation to the current topic as it was for the last one:

If by authenticity one means the unmediated access to some ‘essence’ or ‘truth’ of a subject, virtual environments only make clearer the critique made by poststrucural theorists that all self-presentation is performative, that authenticity is an effect, not an essence. (Smith and Watson 2014, p. 75)

Smith and Watson turn to theorists who speak of ‘authenticity’ as ‘manufactured’ and ‘calculated’ – a form of stage management. This is not an inherently negative or problematic quality, but reinforces the crucial importance of looking upon the commonplace notion of a ‘true self’ as a stable, coherent, and singular entity with a large degree of scepticism.

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Reference

Smith, S and Watson, J 2014, ‘Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Self-Presentation’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 70-95.

Multiple Me(s): Thinking Through My Online Self…

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(ALC201 Module 1 Exercise Example)

Popular understandings of digital identities continue to rely on relatively stable notions of the (true) ‘self’; however, postmodern themes of multiplicity and incoherence are often more useful in forming a self-impression of my digital identity(s). Indeed, postmodernists’ emphasis on human identity being underpinned by a ‘fragmented, disjointed, and discontinuous mode of experience’ (Kellner 1995, p. 233) gestures to the radical shifts between, to take one example, sending formal emails as a university lecturer one moment and self-reflexively creating (often very personal) video clips the next. My Twitter profile allows me to make this self-presentational shift even more rapidly – even in a matter of seconds. In this context, I can move from a tweet that is primarily aimed to promote myself professionally to a more ‘social’ tweet on another profile that appears to reveal more of my ‘private’ side, as in the respective examples below:

Tweets embedded from my @textualworld and @virtualtiff Twitter profiles respectively.

In terms of Kim Barbour and David Marshall’s (2012) categorisation of the different kinds of academic personae, my online activity places me further from the ‘formal’ and fixed broadcast-style self and more in the ‘comprehensive self’ category, which blurs the professional and the private across a number of platforms. This discontinuity allows a high degree of flexibility, providing a means of navigating and contributing to diverse online communities for the purposes of my disparate teaching and research areas, which span digital media innovation, the Holocaust, board game culture, and animal/human rights. However, there are potential limitations to my approach, particularly in terms of needing to find the right balance in order to maintain a following when appealing to often niche and disconnected target communities. Utilising the app JustUnfollow over the past several months has proven an immensely useful way of tracking when anyone stops following me, thus possibly allowing me to determine why this might be and, if I think something needs to change, alter my practices accordingly.

The Easel.ly infographic below symbolically represents some of the ways in which I depict myself across several online media applications:

‘Myonlinepersona’ at Easel.ly

This visual representation makes a clear distinction between those sites I am generally compelled to put forward a more ‘serious’ and ‘professional’ persona on, such as Academia.edu and LinkedIn, and those on which I construct a more ‘impersonal’ self, such as Twitter and YouTube. I have intentionally distanced myself from Facebook over the past few years, which means that it has been a somewhat isolated element of my online identity. In future years, I plan to make more frequent use of this site – as well as the major gaming community site BoardGameGeek – to further develop my research into board game culture through more intense online community engagement.

One must always bear in mind the primary reason for engaging in online forums: connectivity – or what C. Waite (2013, p. 16) identifies as an individual’s dependency on ‘virtual copresence’. Thinking critically about how one is situated within online communities is crucial to establishing an effective online presence. Attempting to balance the personal and professional, I endeavour to build what might be termed a ‘coherent incoherent’ identity. Reflecting the postmodern conception of the self outlined above, recent research has pointed to frequently updated profile pictures ‘becom[ing] a short hand for changing, up-to-the-minute performances of self’ (Hills 2010, p. 118). However, I don’t tend to change my profile picture often, rather using a consistent ‘formal’ image of myself across most platforms. Metaphorically, my profile picture might (as suggested in the infographic above) be viewed as an anchor around which I construct a multiplicity of often contradictory, if not at times ‘incoherent’, public online selves. By appearing – or ‘performing’ – as a serious professional in my profile picture, this will hopefully counter-balance any negative impression garnered by my more fluid, often self-deprecating, depictions in other forms. For instance, I self-reflexively and critically think through my presentation of self as if playing a series of characters, no matter what medium I am using.

Screenshot of meLecture 10 (2013)
Screenshot of ‘2013 meLecture 10 for Exploring New Media: Users, Settings, Implications’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq2GopuJnWo, retrieved 18 July 2014.

My use of a multiplicity of selves can be found in my fragmented appearances in previous video ‘meLectures’ (as in the image above), in which I intend to disrupt the still widely commonplace notion of a ‘true self’ with performances that are at once compellingly authentic and entirely artificial.

Addressing the notion of the ‘intercommunicative self’, Marshall writes of the ‘necessity of linking one’s own identities into some sort of pattern’ (2010, p. 42). This underlines the importance of ensuring one’s various profiles are consistent and linked when and where useful. My About.Me profile, for example, serves as a useful ‘hub’ for these links, which are also contained in some way on other media. Yet no matter how careful one is in depicting oneself online, it is crucial to acknowledge that the self is as much ‘an effect of representation’ as it is something that is ‘expressed through online practices’ (Poletti and Rak 2014, p. 4). Just as I influence perceptions of myself in the non-virtual world through my online behaviour, so too do my virtual personae impact on my own understanding of who I am.

An awareness of this issue is particularly important at a time when photographs of oneself can be uploaded to any number of sites with impunity, highlighting that one ultimately lacks control over one’s self in significant ways. For example, in one of the first seminars of ALC201 for 2014, I sat awkwardly under a table in an attempt to highlight the need to break down the traditionally conceived power relations between students and teacher. One student in the room took a photograph of me and sent it into the Twittersphere (which I only discovered once the seminar had concluded). This great example serves to highlight the point I was making in the seminar perfectly: the rise of digital media and the surveillance society that comes with it has already provided the means to disrupt conventional power relations, whether we like it or not…

Picture of Twitter
Photograph by Adam Brown, 18 July 2014. Image of retweet on https://twitter.com/textualworld.

 (956 words, not including citations and captions)

References

Barbour, K and Marshall, D 2012, ‘The academic online: constructing persona through the World Wide Web’, First Monday: Peer-reviewed Journal of the Internet, vol. 17, no. 9, 3 September, retrieved 18 July 2013, http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3969/3292#p3.

Hills, M 2009, ‘Case study: social networking and self-identity’, in Creeber, G and Martin, R (eds.), Digital Cultures: Understanding New Media, Open University Press, Maidenhead, pp. 117-21.

Kellner, D 1995, Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern, Routledge, London and New York.

Marshall, P D 2010, ‘The promotion and presentation of the self: celebrity as marker of presentational media’, Celebrity Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 35-48.

Poletti, A and Rak, J 2014, ‘Introduction: digital dialogues’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 3-11.

Waite, C 2013, The Digital Evolution of an American Identity, Routledge, New York.

meLecture the First: Introducting Media Studies 2.0: Making, Sharing, Learning

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Dear students of ALC201 Exploring New Media: Users, Settings, Implications,

Sorry to any other subscribers / readers, this post is not for you – but feel free to watch too if you’re interested :)

Below you’ll find the first of the weekly ‘meLectures’, which aim to put into practice the unit’s emphasis on creativity, critical thinking, participation, collaboration, and digital production. This week’s videos are important to watch carefully, as they explain the crucial ideas that the unit is built upon, outline the resources you need to engage with, and map out some key issues for discussion throughout the week. Any feedback on the meLectures is more than welcome as we move through the unit – you don’t have to wait until the end of the trimester to evaluate things in the unit – such is the power of digital media!

And lastly, don’t worry: the meLectures won’t usually be this long – we just have a lot of stuff to cover this week…

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Even though this meLecture is much longer than it will usually be in future weeks, I still had to omit some material and wanted to spend some time here making some preliminary points on how ‘new media’ has been conceptualised. Setting aside the problematic elements of the terminology of the ‘new’ (the unit title is gone next year and ‘digital media’ will take prominence), the most important point I would make is that our interest in this unit goes beyond merely the devices or programs people make use of. To draw on the second edition of New Media: A Critical Introduction (2009, pp. 12-13), Martin Lister et al. emphasise that ‘new media’ should be seen to refer to the following categories:

  • New textual experiences
  • New ways of representing the world
  • New relationships between users and technologies
  • New formations of identity and community
  • New conceptions of the body’s relationship to technology
  • New patterns of organisation and production

One need only reflect on the immersive virtual environment of Second Life, for example, in which users explore and experience a world with its own currency (Linden Dollars) and various educational, business, shopping, and entertainment opportunities, to begin to perceive the implications of digital worlds for the construction of identity and ‘reality’. The increasing reliance on ever-present mobile devices that serve as ‘attachments’ to the physical body, allowing people to be constantly ‘plugged in’, further blur conceptual divides that seemed to be clear-cut not so long ago, such as the distinction between the human and the artificial.

These and other developments have raised fundamental questions for cyberculture scholars (and numerous science-fiction filmmakers) over the very nature of humanity. You might like to list some ‘new media’ examples of your own underneath the above categories to confirm for yourself the incredibly wide scope of what we can look at as part of ALC201. You will have considerable flexibility in the unit to create media in relation to subjects of specific interest, so brainstorming areas and issues that are particularly important to you early in the trimester would be a valuable exercise. In the spirit of Media Studies 2.0, you might even like to use the online platform bubble.us to throw together some ideas…

Go forth, live (online, a bit), and prosper! :)

Adam

Reference

Lister, M, Dovey, J, Giddings, S, Grant I and Kelly, K 2009, New Media: A Critical Introduction, 2nd edition, Routledge, London.

Welcome to ALC201 Exploring New Media: Users, Settings, Implications

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A quick welcome video for students of the Deakin University undergraduate unit ALC201 Exploring New Media: Users, Settings, Implications…

Subscribing to this blog is one way to obtain updates about the unit (if you check email often, this will be a useful strategy for you). I’ll also post some further ALC201-related reflections here throughout the weeks ahead. I recommend you subscribe to my YouTube channel itself as well (particularly if you’ve never done this before), and I’ll be very active on Twitter (both via @textualworld and @digitalzones) throughout the trimester. It would be a great idea to get into the habit of checking out the #ALC201 hashtag every now and then – hopefully, the tweets here will originate from me less and less as we move forward… And, or course, be sure to check CloudDeakin on a regular basis.

Please note that I will be posting some tweets/messages/videos that are not specifically related to ALC201 from time to time. Feel free to share useful links and engage in discussion in any forum you wish and, as noted in the video, please ensure that you behave in a considerate and ethical manner at all times – and contact me at any stage if you have any concerns.

Good luck, and as Dolph Lundgren said in a 1987 classic that was a bit of a Star Wars rip-off but nonetheless had its merits: ‘Good journey’!

Adam

Engaging Communities Both Online and Off: Being a ‘Strategic Academic’… or trying to be!

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on this blog, and the irony now occurs to me that I’ve let this site go ‘quiet’ so long after a presentation I delivered last year. In August I was invited to give a talk as part of ‘The Strategic Academic’ workshop convened by Deakin University’s Faculty of Arts and Education. I called the presentation ‘Be(ing) Visible Through Virtual and Non-Virtual Community Engagement’ and tried to put into practice some of the ideas I would talk about in relation to using digital media for research purposes. So instead of the usual PowerPoint slideshow that I’ve used in the past, I wanted to experiment with making a video with visuals for me to talk over. As I warned everyone on the day, I hadn’t tried this before so may well have found myself either trying to catch up to the video or waiting for it to catch up to me. This is what happened…

Thanks for watching!

Looking into Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror… The End of ALC201, and Your Beginning

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‘Who do you think is powering that spotlight?!’

Some reflections compiled during a seminar screening of ‘Fifty Million Merits’ in 2013

(episode 2 of Black Mirror, season 1)

There’s something remarkable in the moment when the last frame of a film fades to black, the credits begin to roll, and the audience is dead silent in the stillness; when there’s no immediate movement for the door as everyone sits still in their seats, half stunned and half pondering the world… Not many films achieve this. Mostly, the herd of viewers rustle toward the door, crunching popcorn underfoot that’s soon to be swept up by anonymous and ignored cleaners. The crowd then dissipates, heading for the car or the boutique coffee shop or the nearby store to buy a new hat… maybe a real one, maybe not.

Although it wasn’t screened at a cinema, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is one such production. When I screened the episode ‘Fifty Million Merits’ to a class yesterday, the students were at first (and only at first) speechless – and I dare say the present screening will have the same result. This is perhaps predictable on the one hand given the expert building of tension within the tightly wound plot, combined with the unsentimental and anti-redemptory lack of closure. Plus the film begs far more questions than it answers. But I think the silence stems from something else too. The episode hits hard, implicating its audience in a dystopian scenario that offers a sharp and wide-ranging critique of present day digital screen culture through a depiction of a not-so-distant ‘future’.

From the humiliation of people as ‘fake fodder’ on Reality TV; to the absurdity of the consumption of virtual goods for aesthetic purposes; to the bullying of people with large body sizes who have been demonised by violent computer games; to the blurred dividing line between pornography and celebrity culture; to the reliance of identity construction on ‘buying shit'; to the reinforcement of sexist, racist, and classist ideologies through both the media and the very structures of society; to the fundamental undermining of conventional conceptions of ‘truth’ and ‘reality'; ‘Fifty Million Merits’ has it all, and then some.

The protagonist Bing (played so powerfully by Daniel Kaluuya, also of the 2010 drama Chatroom) tells Abi: ‘It’s all just stuff. It’s… stuff. It’s confetti… When I look around here, I just want something real to happen. For once…’ Nothing is real for Bing anymore, and even his climactic act of subversion is neatly packaged, commodified and filtered by the inescapable structures that govern his life. The ‘reality’ of the imagery in the last frame remains ambiguous, for all time. Yet when we consider aspects of ‘our world’ – the program ‘options’ in prime time slots on our television schedules, or the ethnic origin of the ‘enemies’ in the latest combat console game, or the YouTube advertisements that can only be skipped after a short time or not at all – this film is clearly very ‘real’ (whatever that means…)

We might leave Black Mirror once the credits roll, but it might also choose to stay with us. Perhaps if we earn enough merits we can set it aside and forget about it. Why not take another cup of cuppliance and stress less? That spotlight won’t power itself…

One last thought (from 2014)…

I’ve seen this episode at least a dozen times now, and the significance of its wide-ranging critique continues to grow on me. Are the young people who ride those bikes, who power the entertainment ‘machine’, who seem to (at least in the vast majority of cases) unthinkingly devour problematic ideological messages through their ever-present screens, the ‘Digital Natives’ or ‘Generation Next’ conceptualised by political leaders, journalists, universities, industry employers, and those who promote a Media Studies 2.0 approach? Are they the produsers or prosumers that we’ve been trying to be throughout ALC201 Exploring New Media? Or are they just consumers – those who do not create, share, participate, and collaborate? We’ve seen a variety of student activities across the consumer-prosumer spectrum throughout the year… What have you been?

And what will you be in the future…?

With this question in mind, I strongly suggest you watch the following video: